Wargame: AirLand Battle Review

Wargame: AirLand Battle is a rewarding tactical real-time strategy game that is both complex and addictive.

by

Whoa.

Apologies to Keanu Reeves, but that's exactly the sort of stunned reaction provoked by Wargame: AirLand Battle. This supersize real-time strategizer set during a Cold War-era WWIII is one of those all-in games that practically punches you in the face with its complexity when you fire it up for the first time. But even though this game is so daunting initially that you want to begin your time with the game by studying Clausewitz, the design is so slick and the combat so deviously challenging that you can't help being drawn into its what-if web pitting the Warsaw Pact against NATO.

Gee, everything looks awfully calm from way up here.

The modes, at least, are straightforward enough. You get a suite of tutorials. There are four solo/multiplayer campaigns, each covering different theaters of World War III in Northern Europe circa 1985. These play out like board games, in that you maneuver units on big turn-based tactical maps of Scandinavia before getting in close on detailed strategic battlefield maps when the guns start going off. Era-specific events pop up during the campaigns as well that alter battle conditions and add flavor to the Cold War setting.

So don't be surprised when that rabble-rousing Vaclav Havel starts mouthing off and causing trouble for your Warsaw Pact. Skirmish mode lets you go toe-to-toe with foes online or off in either small-scale matches or huge 10-versus-10 affairs. There is even something of a Warhammer or collectible card game vibe here: you can set up decks of units based on different themes like era or nationality and then take them into battle against all comers. You get a lot for your money when it comes to the sheer weight of the game options. A thriving community is playing online right now, too, so you can always find fresh opponents to keep battling even long after the single-player options have lost their luster.

Delve a little deeper, however, and you soon find that you need to devote serious time to learning all that this intricate example of modern warfare in a box has to offer. For instance, the game features hundreds of different units, each of which has been loaded up with detailed weapon modeling, armor ratings, firing ranges, and all sorts of other stats that are extremely helpful when you want to roll your T-72 tanks through the Swedish countryside. Units run the full gamut of, well, just about everything you would find on the air or land, with infantry, tanks, jets, choppers, bombers, AA guns, recon trucks, and so on.

Not much here comes easy. The tutorials let you dip your toe into some deep waters, but they're really more like a series of easy-ish to tough missions that serve as an introduction to the combat system. Oddly, they all lack meaningful instructions regarding what you're supposed to be doing. These scenarios just dump you into the middle of a battle with very basic orders, like telling you to start a close-quarters scrap by emptying troop carriers of their riflemen cargo.

And this is why reconnaissance is your best friend. Blindly fly into enemy-held territories, and you stand a great chance of being blown out of the sky.

As much as the game can be viewed as a complicated depiction of contemporary warfare, it remains somewhat simplistic on the surface. This is all about combat, first, last, and always. There are no bases to build or resources to gather. That said, there are plenty of hair-pulling moments early on just dealing with sending units into battle. But there is a strong rock-paper-scissors formula functioning in the background.

Tanks, fighter planes, and so forth are fully featured and realistic, with all of the battlefield strengths and weaknesses that you would expect. Anyone with even rudimentary RTS or wargame experience can figure out the basics just by using common sense. You don't need to know right away that T-72A tanks can fire seven rounds per minute with their main guns, or that your Mi-24V chopper missiles have an accuracy rating of 11. You need to figure these things out eventually to have any chance of winning the tougher campaigns, but there is a nice learning process where you pick up all of the nitty-gritty along the way.

The minimal interface helps immensely. Units are maneuvered with standard mouse scrolling and typical use of the left- and right-click buttons. All of the onscreen controls are right in your face. There aren't many of them to bother with, either. The focus is a hands-on style where you grab units and order them around. Two clicks are all that it takes to pull up all the key information about any unit in the game. So you never need to fumble around or go on any sort of expedition into nestled menu screens to check unit stats or ratings.

Units are loaded with fine detail modeling, well, pretty much everything. Thankfully, you don't have to understand all the stats right away.

Still, there is some room for complaint. Being able to dumb things down a little and switch to more simplistic numbers for units, like attack and defense ratings, speed, and so forth, would make the game much more approachable in the beginning. These numbers would have really smoothed out the initial learning curve and added a pick-up-and-play dimension that the game currently lacks.

At any rate, the gameplay in Wargame: ALB is so good that it draws you in despite the heavy detail. You're always battling your opponent, not the game itself. There is a superb split focus between the simple us-versus-them strategy that you can recognize from wargames as standard as Risk, and the tremendous depth that comes from all those stats that accurately model every facet of combat. The one flaw comes with the strict time limit on battles in campaign mode. You get just 20 minutes to meet the mission goals, and the whole thing winds up a draw if you fail, no matter how much of a beating you might be laying on the baddies when the clock ticks down to zero.

Map design is also brilliant in its mix of complexity and simplicity. There are multiple ways to secure your objectives, taking advantage of different units, exploiting one set of terrain over another, and so forth. Every map offers you a lot of choices, none of which are ever flatly wrong unless you're tackling everything head-on like Rambo. Do you flank an enemy position or hit it head-on? Take your tanks down the speedier roads or run them across the slower countryside? Sneak infantry through the woods toward an enemy-held town or get them into position on the high ground overlooking the bad guys? Maps open up the more that you play them and begin to figure out just how many choices you have with every move that you make.

Heavy is the head that sees the bird's-eye view.

The visuals and sound don't quite keep pace with the rest of the game. They are more than serviceable, however. Maps and unit models look realistic, if not exactly lifelike. Everything does its job, especially the terrain, which has enough detail to properly depict such features as deep forests and swampy lowlands. And the game moves along quite quickly despite the size of some of the maps, never bogging down even a mid-grade gaming system. The graphics only get bad when the camera zooms in close on urban scenes; things like picket fences go from pleasant to pixelated at ground level. Audio is a bit more obnoxious. Combat booms and bangs sound good enough, but the order acknowledgements are lacking in variety, and both the constant warning klaxons and the blaring martial music are extremely annoying.

Smart and rewarding, Wargame: ALB is one of those rare strategy games that give more back to you the more you put into playing them. It isn't exactly user-friendly, although it is easier to sidle up to than most games of this type because of the elegant design that blends combat basics with the depth that comes with the detailed modeling of hundreds of different units from the Cold War. It is an impressive design in just about every way, remaining at least somewhat accessible for all manner of strategy fans while not compromising any of its depth or details for more hardcore players looking for a serious wargame.

The Good
Incredible amount of depth
Reasonably accessible despite the complexity of combat
Blends deep wargame tactics with straightforward action
Four involving and lengthy Cold War-era campaigns
Solid suite of multiplayer features, including 10-versus-10 showdowns
The Bad
Steep learning curve in the early stages
Jagged visuals
Repetitive music and sound effects
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Member

Discussion

96 comments
willychong8921
willychong8921

This game visuals is so potimized to the point of I can called it near prefection, it is the embodiement of a company dedicated to provide all round graphic vs performance and emphasis both beautifully, Company of Heroes 2 by comparison is an inferior game when it comes to graphic vs performance, enhancing little but makes your graphic card cough and bleed to death!

willychong8921
willychong8921

Awesome game, I got pounded to bits at initial matches, my F-15s blown to bits, my F-116 being shot down by Migs, only to turn the tide by my M60s and MBT 70s saving grace.

1wikkid1
1wikkid1

I wish this game had a bit more depth to it... kind of like the Close Combat (or Total War) series. Some sort of an economy where you get resources based on performance and these can be used to upgrade or purchase troops. I know there's a reinforcement counter that lets you buy troops during battles, but it's such a boring system... Whereas in Close Combat you had to take care of every single unit, they persist from battle to battle so you don't want to lose the veteran units plus once the resource points are spent that's it, no more until the next battle so in a way it also forced you to work with what you've got. Plus the amount of these resources was also dependent on which territories are under your/enemy control... can't really reinforce an army if it's surrounded by enemies.

I didn't get very deep into Wargame yet, but this lack of strategic planning is something that always pushed me away from combat sims. 

My biggest complaint though is something the reviewer also mentioned... the lack of a REAL comprehensive tutorial. I've no clue what all these units are supposed to do. Perhaps some sort of an encyclopedia (like Civilization and again Total War) that explains that the infantry in jeeps is helpless while inside the jeeps, they need to garrizon buildings to be effective. Even during the "tutorials" I'm getting units and not a clue as to their function... I mean yeah the Abrams tank is self explanatory, but what about the reconnasance jeep? How do I use it properly and what is it's function? Ultimately IMO that's the biggest fault with Wargame... people who are familiar with these type of things in depth could just jump in and get to it, but the rest of us will have to either do some significant research or bash our heads on our tables until we can figure these things out via trial and error (though you're likely to ragequit long before that.)

On top of that some of the objectives are not listed... my latest tutorial attempt was a loss because apparently I had to keep at least one of the command vehicles alive, why not mention that in the battle description?! The first I heard of it was after my second (and last) one was destroyed, right before the 'you lose' dialogue it decided that it's time to tell me about this. :/


I agree with the score here, this is a really deep game... but the learning curve is beyond steep, it's almost straight vertical, and the game doesn't do much to help in this regard, just throws you into the mess and lets you figure everything as you go along. If you're into these large military sims AND are willing to do a bunch of research about the various units and technologies then by all means give this a try. If you're expecting another Company of Heroes clone look elsewhere.

Simplythebest12
Simplythebest12

With some patches the game will become even better and even more balanced....It is a shame that the game does not have enough fame like the COD games.

It is probably the best realistic RTS out there with a huge variety of units...It makes games like COH look like childish crap

Triton
Triton

Campaign needs work big time. Other than that good game.

4514N_DUD3
4514N_DUD3

I guess it is pretty hard if you're just thrown into the fray, but those who've played RUSE and European Escalation should be able to grasp it pretty fast. Also, I found the hardest campaign to be easier than the easiest one.

general_kane_na
general_kane_na

A few tips for people who are interested in this game but find it hard:

-Before starting online visit the armory, you can turn off and on the available nations by clicking on the flags, this will allow you to understand better the function of every group of units.

-A good AP value works against heavily armoured units, a good HE value is great against units with no armour, some weapons such as cannon fire can do both type of damage to any ground units, while missiles and cluster bombs can only affect vehicles.

-Napalm weaponry progressively damages and breaks the morale of units while forcing them out of the place where it was unleashed.

-Most missiles are GUI, this means the unit which fires them has to remain stationary in order to guide it to the objective, on the other hand F&F weapons dont have such limitations and work more like your classic videogame missile.

-Like Paladins and Apaches? You need to create a US national deck, these and some other units are prototypes and thus can only be used on one-nation-only decks, you can find this and other options when creating a deck, besides it's easier to work with a limited national deck in order to not to feel too overwhelmed by the amount of units the game has.

-Often quantity has its own quality, when creating a deck dont sink all the available points on powerful but costly prototypes, you will also need cheaper units to cover more map or just as meatshields.

-Artillery, missiles and rockets eat a lot of supplies, have some at hand and tray not to waste these kind of ammo, use the for surgical strikes, you can even turn off and on the weapons your units are allowed to use by clicking on them.

-A unit needs not to be attacked for 40 secs in order to resupply.

-Be careful with fire as it deals morale AND hp damage forcing your units to move out.

-Sometimes bombers need some distance from their targets in order to unload their payloads, whenever the enemy is too close just order them to go behind your base and the redirect them to their objectives.

-Always have a finger on the V key whenever you send a plane on a mission, this is the hotkey for the plane to evacuate the map, if you see there is too much AA dont hesitate to push it.

-Antiradar missiles only work against AA units with radars and dont need line of sight to fire at them.

-Tray some skirmish first against an easy AI, put a time and point limit and dig in, 1v1 maps have bottlenecks where the AI invariably will send their units, this will allow you to practice firing exercises with your different units while learning the particularities of each unit.

Hope this may help, you can find more info and guides at the official forums.

hardcorecasualz
hardcorecasualz

i HATE it when games are too hard, especially when the games are good.


this isn't the 80's/90's, those games were nightmares to beat unless u have a buddy to go thru the hard stuff.

im a hardcore gamer and a noob, never want to win just enjoy hardcore games. only compete when i dont want to get yelled at for being at last place by jerks lol

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

It's campaign is much harder than EE. But its an improved game in every possible way. In EE, alot of things needed improvement, but ALB takes care of them all. Infantry plays a much important role. Making decks is alot more varied and highly addictive. 


You get bonuses for keeping your deck specific to a Nation ( US, UK, etc), To a military built (Mechanized, Air Assault, Paratroopers, etc) and also to a specific time period (1975, 1980). 

Lord_Vader
Lord_Vader

I played European Escalation so I'm guessing this one is similar to it. The game is great but it definitely doesn't hold your hand while you're learning the ropes. It's quite easy to get discouraged playing it.

ANIMAL001
ANIMAL001

Seriously gamespot start working on a video review of this game's multiplayer it is only fair!

Gears_0f_L0ve
Gears_0f_L0ve

This game is perfection for an RTS multiplayer.   This and R.U.S.E.

Elche58
Elche58

As gamespot gave SC HotS only 8 of 10, there is no way any other RTS will surpass that score without Blizzard sticker on it - at least for a year. I doubt that even Rome 2 will manage... So 8 of 10 it is - with the feeling that the reviewer tried really hard to justify the score with really lame cons... Because nothing on Earth can be better than boring-ass SC2, yo man, the cinematics soo nice. CoH2 - lack of innovation. Blizzard basically pulled new (mediocre at that time) graphics over 10 years old game - 9,5 out of 10. WALB - steep learning curve and jagged visuals - well, SC2 is really "king" of graphics and the gameplay is so simple, they can give it to mentally challenged children to play with. So, SC2 HotS is king of this year RTS (I am calling that well in advance), because of mediocre graphics, simple gameplay, MP balancing (which has been fixed like gazillion times), boring-ass SP with laughable story, but yo man, they make sooo nice cut-scenes+2. And there is a Blizzard logo+1 on it. Seriously guys, pull your heads from Blizzard ass. All they do is ripping-off their customers. 

Caldrin
Caldrin

"Jagged visuals"

Really? I thought the visuals where really good..


I mean you can zoon right out then zoom right into the units and they are pretty well detailed considering you can do that. Cant think of many games that can do that.. maybe the total war games and even then the units are not as detailed when your zoomed right in..



It is a really good game tho.. but no suprise as I had the origional as well and that was just as good.

keyb0red
keyb0red

I got killed playing the tutorial LOL


Wensea10
Wensea10

This definitely changes the general scale of real time strategy games.

y3ivan
y3ivan

Russian armor is bloody overpowered in wargame

SKaREO
SKaREO

80 feels like a rip off for the best RTS game ever made. Definitely not a game for the weak minded. Also, please learn to adjust your graphics settings manually and stop complaining about non-issues in your reviews. You seem really unprofessional.

The game is absolutely stellar and if you like RTS games and war strategy in general, you will probably love this game.

Stevonian
Stevonian

From the You Tube videos I've seen it looks like (to play well) you have to stay zoomed out.  However, you then lose the cool graphics of seeing the actual tanks and planes fighting.  How does one take advantage of the neat graphics if you can't zoom in without getting killed elsewhere on the battlefield?  Game looks great; I'm borderline on purchase.

Karmazyn
Karmazyn

I was hoping for video review...

jairodoi
jairodoi

a great game the bad things mentioned here by the reviewer seems to be just personal preferences. you'll not be paying attention to that when your in the heat of battle esp on multiplayer

Nighteg
Nighteg

@SipahSalar What's on earth are you talking about. We're suppose to guess what EE means?

dutchgamer83
dutchgamer83

@Lord_Vader It helps to learn what the strength and weakness of your units are, and that of the enemy. Watch youtube movies from people who play the games and try to learn from them. It often helps me a lot when a game is rather hard for me to see how others do it. Especially when a tutorial doesn't give me enough information to move on with.

VR_Verdugo
VR_Verdugo

@Gears_0f_L0ve I remember I played RUSE and couldn't get into the gameplay but man did they build a nice engine for that game. It ran so smooth.

terminus
terminus

@Elche58 

The tide has already changed, blizzard is finished, remember this.

Gears_0f_L0ve
Gears_0f_L0ve

@Caldrin The IrisZoom engine is amazing.. I'm not sure there should be any complaints on graphics whatsoever.

fraggerxp
fraggerxp

@y3ivan It's strong, but not overpowered. Russian tanks have only medium stabilizers, so they arent that great in a push. 

ajac09
ajac09

@y3ivan made by russians should expect that though. In there wargames there stuff owns.  I guess they missed out on several wars were NATO weapons blew the shit out of there stuff.

Gears_0f_L0ve
Gears_0f_L0ve

@Stevonian EVE Online, Ruse, Wargame series, Supreme Commander are the games that I know that you have to play always zoomed out.

y3ivan
y3ivan

@fraggerxp @y3ivan right? i have been playing for about a month, all notice the best tactics is still zerging a large armored column with several exp ATGM tanks behind and you could easily steam roll any NATO opposition regardless of their vehicle Tier and experienced crew. Did i mention that PACT have a better Anti-air defence system and their helo and aircraft is nearly on par with NATO air power

aepervius
aepervius

@ajac09 @y3ivan Which war are you speaking of ? The Ti-62 and Ti-64 are as far as I know the only one NATO went against in war-by-proxy. Ti 80 or even 84, 90 and the IS series ? I don't think they were sold or involved in any recent war. Except maybe Dagestan and Chechen. And even then I can't recall them being "blown the shit out of". Even then it would not matter much, as the difference between a M1A2 Abrahams and a Ti-80 is not that big, and the soviet doctrine was based on overwhelming NATO with an order of magnitude more MBT than NATO could put up.

ANIMAL001
ANIMAL001

@ajac09 @y3ivan Eugen systems is FRENCH. 

Also, t-34 medium tanks dominated the first half of the second world war, and later the is series ( is-2 and is-3) were considered the best tanks in the world, it was on this design that other post war powerhouses like the german leopard and the united states m48 were based on (i wont even get into kv designs and others to avoid the classical wall of text).

Most soviet tanks had main gun stabilization which enabled them to accurately fire on the move without ruining their suspension, and high mobility.

By the way, im not russian.

These guys really did a good job simulating the period's weapons of war with very few flaws if you compare them to each other.

cjtopspin
cjtopspin

@SipahSalar @Nighteg In my opinion though EE has nothing on ALB unless you DP and LMNOP and B your L over some girls Ts....IMO of course.

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

@Nighteg @SipahSalar No, definitely not. ALB's campaign is alot harder but it is also much more refined. You are better off not playing EE.

PeejayYeh
PeejayYeh

@253_12thman @ajac09@253_12thman @ajac09 nice analysis there, even though in the last wars of the cold war era (vietnam, korea, NATO-WPTO), there are conventional change between the needs of the army, terrain, weather, and strategic objectives. i can even say that Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising is a nice stimulation of the Cold War. wars are always decided by Hinge Factors, a unexpected turn of events on war time.

its nice to play tactics, but just like chess, overall strategy is any general's winning framework...

nice one :D

253_12thman
253_12thman

@ajac09

Glossing over the fact that Eugen is a French dev team - or that I'm one of the biggest NATO fanboys there is...

Any conflict you can think of in the past 30 years is simply not a indication to what "Warsaw Pact full on warfare with NATO in 1985" would be like, and frankly the fact that you'd  try to make the comparison shows just how narrow your grasp is on era\theater specific military capabilities.

Like... Congratulations. You've found Wikipedia. Some advice? Stay there.

Especially if you want to bring up the Gulf - Why dont you just quote the History Channel? Yeah, a multinational obliteration of an army which was outdated, out gunned and undertrained - equipped with monkey model 72's - and no air support? Fielded against one of the most powerful coalitions ever fielded, short of NATO or the WP? Because a T-72M is far superior than a T-72B, right?

Sorry to break it to you - but yeah, the Soviet equipment that will smash your face into the dirt, is supposed to. It's as powerful as it should be. Go play some C&C and watch the military channel - Sorry but this is too much for you.

I have to call it out frankly; because its Funny; You want to know what ALL of the "WP is OP"complaints about ALB have in common? None of the people who make them are any good at playing as anyone but WP.

You want to talk about Soviet Doctrine? Lol NATO's doctrine was "Oh Sh*t - we're so outgunned conventionally, if we don't want to get steamrolled, we need to fight delaying actions all day - and if that don't work, ready the nukes".

But all Joe know's how to is play StarCraft or World in Conflict. Spam and out gun. See, because it's based in reality, you can actually play like that as WP.

But Joe will try to do the same with NATO - He spends all his $ on 4 M1A1's and a bunch of Pattons and sends them out without recon against 4 T-64BVs, outranging the pricier Abrams by like 500 meters - so the Abrams start gettin smoked at 2200 meters, before they even open up and Joe screams "WAAH! Soviets are OP!" *rage quit*

Whats ironic is; the most common complaint about those who DO know how to play against a NATO opponent that knows what theyre doing is, what? That "NATO is OP" with the ATGM and Air Support advantage.

This game is NOT about who's units are better. It's about what units you bring the bear, at what time, and to where. It's about tactics.


You get a bad draw and field a Norwegian deck against a Soviet Armored deck? And you still insist on spamming the reds with Centurions - then you just refused to adapt and play to common military tactics. Please, do the community a favor and just gift the game to someone else who may actually learn to play?

Now to those of you who do realize that Soviet equipment has their strengths and weaknesses? If you understand that the Iraqi Army and GSFG are not fielding the same equipment? If you understand a single, tiny jeep with an I-TOW missile, can pop the top off of a Soviet tank that is 8 times the cost, before the tank can fire its main gun? If you understand that its never the tool that wins the battle - but the ones using the tools?

If your that person - Then you MUST play this game - and LEARN to play it. It takes a ton of practice - lots of loosing - and an ability to learn what tactics will work and which ones wont - against this or that weapon system. It's a very rewarding experience - and a great way to have fun with tactics!

Otherwise; go cry on each others shoulder - not everyone is going to have the mental aptitude to enjoy this game.

If so, then every soldier would eventually become a general.


 

Elche58
Elche58

You can´t take seriously the performance of Iraqi army in Gulf wars - poorly trained crew fighting with desperately outdated equipment in conditions of absolute coalition air dominance. On the top of that, Soviets usually sold only second grade simplified equipment to "friendly" countries (monkey models). Tank guns without advanced stabilizers, no laser rangefinders, poor NV equipment, ammunition with reduced propellant charges and low quality penetrators. There is absolutely no way they could withstand coualition attack. In chcechen wars - piss poor commanding sending conscript soldiers with waeponry inadequate for city fighting, to fight in a city crawling with hardened afgan vets, most of whom knew soviet army like their pants. A recipe for a disaster, and that is exactly what happened. You cannot judge quality of the equipment made for certain conditions by evaluating the performance in entirely different conditions. Fact is, russian/soviet equipment has never been tested agains western counterpats in anything near 50-50 battle. Only one instance when that hapenned may have been Iran-Iraq war, but that is also very specific.

ajac09
ajac09

@aepervius @ajac09 @y3ivan let see te wars in the middle east gulf wars . The only time Russian equipment actually won against NATO equipment was during there overwheleming attacks against chech rebels.  Soviet Doctrine and soviet equipment failed in most engagements.  They did a piss poor job simulating weapons unless of course they are soviet.  Most soviet game designers are this way as well ever play war thunder? Love how they have some of the worst soviet world war 2 aircraft doing circles around even the BF109. Soviet game designers are very biased and really makes me wonder if putin has his hand  even in that industry 

Wargame: AirLand Battle More Info

First Release on May 29, 2013
  • PC
  • Macintosh
  • Unix/Linux
Wargame: AirLand Battle allows players to command all military resources of the Cold War era from tanks to planes.
7.7
Average User RatingOut of 116 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Wargame: AirLand Battle
Developed by:
Eugen Systems
Published by:
Focus Home Interactive
Genres:
Real-Time, Strategy
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
All Platforms